Last night I had the chance to see The Plastic People of the Universe, which was great because I missed them here two years ago when they were guests at the Czech embassy. I’m not all that familiar with these guys — I have Egon Bondy’s Happy Hearts Club Banned and Muz bez uší, the album of their earliest live recordings. I’m not very well-acquainted with the latter, but I think pretty highly of Egon Bondy. Regardless, given that the bandleader Milan Hlavsa passed away in 2001, I really had no idea what to expect from this incarnation of the band.
What I was treated to was a melodic, accessible brand of sorta-avant-rock — still a little out there and experimental, but not enough to scare off anyone even moderately familiar with dissonant music, and nowhere near as edgy as their early stuff, at least the stuff I’m familiar with. There were tons of catchy themes, bouncy rhythms and melodic guitar solos; the most out-there stuff were the vocals (mostly chanted or spoken), the sometimes weird keyboard harmonies, and the occasional white-hot sax solos. I was a little surprised at how prominent a role the guitarist was given; he’s a very good player but many of his solos were a little too straightforward for my taste. The sax solos were more up my alley, soulful and searching; and the highlight of the entire set was definitely a rendition of “Apocalyptic Bird” from Egon Bondy, which dispensed with the annoying keyboard squalls present at the beginning and end of the studio version, but faithfully rendered the funky beat and blistering sax work.
This was a really fun show; if not the most compelling one I’ve seen this year, it was great to see these guys looking so hale and hearty and having a great time. Also nice to see that they were able to draw a crowd of probably over 100 folks (and interestingly enough, I think more than half of the audience was female). I might have to pick up some more of their material at some point.